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Friday, September 22, 2023


Get physical with diverse beats

Students leave their pens and papers at home and come to this class prepared to sweat out their stress.

Though often considered the same as hip-hop, urban dance, offered as a class at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, is actually the integration of hip-hop, jazz, inner-city dances and afro-Caribbean dance. Urban dance takes a little bit of everything and bases it on a foundation of African dance and rhythm, urban dance instructor La’Crystal Washington said.

"You can think of urban dance as like a big gumbo. I see the inner city as a melting pot for every culture and, in urban dance, every culture is involved," she said. "Hip-hop is fluid; urban dance is more dynamic. Urban dance reflects culture and focuses and is based more in African dance."

Washington, a UH alumna, has her own dance company and also co-founded UH’s Twisted Elegance urban dance troupe.

Her company, Urban Dance Fitness, supports "dancing for fitness," as well as displaying and promoting a respectful view of urban and inner-city dances.

Urban dance works out the entire body, Washington said.

"It is about as intense as a turbo kickboxing class or a Hi-Lo cardio fitness class," she said.

It works the thighs, specifically

the hamstrings and quadriceps.

"Because of the African influence on urban dance, it calls for us to dance in pli’eacute; or, in other words, to have bent knees," she said.

Urban dance also works out the core muscles located within the trunk of the body.

"In urban dance, we initiate every movement from the core," Washington said.

Isolation is also integral to the full-body workout.

"By isolating each body part one at a time – mainly the chest and pelvis – the dancers learn how to perform what is learned in class," she said.

This isolation helps in the execution of the "flowy" and "curvy" movements found within urban dance.

The biceps, pectoral and forearm muscles get a workout as well, but only when the dance involves falling or pushing up from the ground, Washington said.

The joints get their exercise too, mainly the ball-socket joints in the hip and arm, because of the throwing and kicking actions that are involved.

Stretching is also important to urban dance, as it encourages flexibility and helps in each movement’s execution.

Washington uses the Horton technique and Bartenieff fundamentals in warm-ups to prepare her students for class.

The Horton technique uses the flat back, primitive squats and laterals to strengthen core stability and balance as well as pelvis alignment. The Bartenieff fundamentals, through oppositional pulls, do the same but also help in spinal alignment.

Even though the class can be intense, the moves are not difficult to learn.

"Students learn the steps slow," Washington said. "This teaches spatial awareness, or how their body relates to the environment around them."

In class, Washington starts with a warm-up, moves to stretching and then begins the choreography.

"We start with a specific song at first, and then I put another song on later to the same rhythm," she said.

This teaches students to dance on their own and to listen to the rhythmic patterns.

"I don’t want it to be just counting," she said. "I want everyone to keep the rhythm in their bodies and to be able to move with it."

As for music, there is a variety of songs and genres she selects from – from Soca or Caribbean music to a Ghanaian West African drumbeat to popular artists such as Beyonc’eacute; Knowles or Lupe Fiasco.

"Urban dance is like athletic conditioning," Washington said. "Fitness is very important in dance because it articulates and helps you do the movements."

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